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James D. Meacham

James D. Meacham

James Meacham is Director of Consulting on SAI Global’s Advisory Services team and specializes in business ethics, cultural and behavioral influences on ethics risk and compliance, strategic corporate governance, and GRC technologies.

The primary goal of most Chief Compliance Officers is to decrease compliance risk by increasing ethical behavior. One of the most difficult questions in pursuit of that goal is how to measure progress. Unfortunately, ethical behavior can’t be directly measured, so the measurements compliance officers rely on are actually proxies for ethical behavior. For compliance programs that have reached a degree of maturity, surveys are among the most commonly used broad-based tool for measuring employee knowledge, attitudes, and buy-in regarding compliance and ethics.

Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility seem, at first glance, to be two sides of the same coin. Both are voluntary constraints on behavior while in pursuit of profit. Ethics and compliance programs focus on keeping the behavior of individual employees within the law and creating an internal culture of compliance, whereas CSR is concerned with strategic and operational relationships with external stakeholders. The key tool of the Ethics department is the Code of Conduct and its related policies.

It seems like we are always looking for ways to assess our ethics and compliance culture.  Is it really possible?  Even if areas like culture, which can be tricky to assess and measure…we can see some evidence of some innovative ways to look at concrete data points to develop a risk mitigation strategy.  For example, using the data provided by Geert Hofstede’s research database, it’s possible to compare national cultures along the dimensions pioneered by Hofstede.

Hybrids: Not Just for Cars Anymore

Wednesday, 18 September 2013 11:22 Published in Compliance Programs -- In Practice

It’s tempting to think of “best practices” in ethics and compliance as fixed, static, and their evolution as slow and obvious. It’s also easy to forget that our industry is only two decades old and there’s quite a lot that isn’t known about how to reduce compliance risk. At SAI Global, our Advisory Services team is tasked with continually researching and assessing emerging compliance and ethics trends and advising our clients how best to apply best practices in diverse business contexts. As a result, we often discover that generally accepted best practices are in fact in need of updating. One recent example helps refine some established ideas regarding the effective use of e-learning. E-learning has been considered the best practice for cost-effective dissemination of general compliance and ethics training for the past fifteen years and, as the technology has matured, the value of e-learning has increased as well.

Takeaways from the Chinese Hacking Scandal

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 09:05 Published in Information Security

The media has recently been afire with news of the discovery of state-sponsored hacking by the Chinese.  While it has long been hypothesized that hackers – based in China with possible links to the government of the People’s Republic of China – were targeting businesses in the west, the nature of the relationship was unknown and the aims of these hackers unclear. A report released last week by U.S. cyber-security firm Mandiant claims that these hackers in fact comprise a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. If this is true (as the preponderance of evidence in Mandiant report suggests), the implications for western businesses and governments are considerable and will present substantial challenges to both.

In the perfect, abstract world of traditional economics, everyone behaves in a way that maximizes his or her benefit and no one acts against his or her self-interest. Unfortunately, as the emergent field of behavioral economics has shown, human beings are remarkably unpredictable and given to myriad biases and random, non-rational (and irrational) influences.  This complicates the compliance and ethics professional’s job, especially with respect to incentives and discipline. Even more dishearteningly, even when we are able to predict initial effects, unintended consequences frequently exacerbate the very problem we were trying to solve.

Culture, Hierarchy, and Compliance Risk

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 09:49 Published in Risk Management

It has long been claimed that an open corporate culture reduces compliance risk. This is based on the intuitive notion that if employees feel free to bring ethics and compliance concerns to management without fear of recrimination or retaliation, they are more likely to do so.  This willingness to discuss and report wrongdoing, in turn, should reduce the likelihood that potential bad actors will actually engage in harmful behaviors.

Resisting Reductionist Theories of Corporate Governance

Wednesday, 19 September 2012 14:16 Published in Other

The search for universal principles in the social sciences has been far less successful than it has been in the physical sciences. The last two hundred years have seen many such theories proposed (e.g., Social Darwinism, Marxism, and Postmodernism), fervently advocated, and ultimately abandoned because they didn’t take into consideration the full complexity of human experience and motivation.

In his new book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, How We Lie To Everyone—Especially Ourselves, social psychologist and Duke University professor Dan Ariely, examines what he calls the “Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC)”, which is the idea that people cheat solely in order to increase rewards to themselves. In my view, this intuitive model may also form the basis for certain compliance and ethics practices.

There are rarely yelling matches in business ethics. So it’s something of an event when anything other than collegial respect is on display. A recent New York Times article by essayist and critic William Deresiewicz entitled “Capitalists and Other Psychotics” and a strongly worded blog response by leading business ethicist Chris MacDonald, have brought some bare-knuckled entertainment to our usually civilized business. Deresiewicz argues (based on some admittedly limited academic studies) that capitalism is ethically suspect and its practitioners closer to psychotics than saints.  MacDonald responded that capitalism is impossible without trust and reciprocity. 

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